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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What Does the Emergence of Synthetic Voices Mean for Human Voice Actors?

If you would have told me twenty years ago that I would be able to ask my phone for the day’s forecast or my car to tell me the closest gas station, I would have laughed at you. But today? Today that’s exactly what we can do, thanks to ever-advancing technology that is making artificial intelligence more commonplace in our everyday lives. Truly, it is amazing what we’re capable of doing now.

But if we can put the amazement associated with this technology on hold for now, what I’d really like to talk about is the role that voice over plays with all this. Have you ever really thought about who Siri is, for instance? How did she get her voice? Most people think she’s a machine, a manmade voice that was created using computers. But was she always? Her name is voice actor, Susan Bennett.

Nope. Siri actually has very human origins, as do any of the synthetic voices we’ve grown accustomed to hearing. Here’s how it works: a voice actor is tapped for a gig probably unlike any other they’ve ever had. Instead of reading product information or voicing an animated character, they read what essentially amounts to gibberish into the mic. Nonsensical phrases are common, but so are random readings from books or news sites. Once complete, the readings - whether they make sense or not - are synthesized in a computer process called concatenation, that builds words and sentences. From there, these words and sentences make their way to computer-based applications on devices such as smartphones.

Pretty neat, huh? But this also brings up another interesting question - what do these synthetic voices mean for voice actors? Well, probably not much. Man made or not, these voices still originated from a real, live person, and that need will never go away.  Humans are also still the only ones capable of complex emotion and decision-making, both of which are critical to the art of voice over.

So is there cause for concern? No, not in my opinion. So for now, let’s just be amazed by this fascinating technology, and if I ever hear that Apple or someone wants a computerized “voice of Americana,” I’ll be happy to read all that gibberish.

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